How Does a Silkworm Make Its Silk?
Silk is a thin, but strong fiber that silkworms produce when they are making their cocoons. The silkworm makes its silk by oozing a liquid from special silk glands in its mouth. As soon as it touches the air, the silk liquid dries into a silk thread. Silkworms are the caterpillars of the silk moth.
Those cultivated for their silk are fed leaves of the mulberry tree. When they are ready to change into adult moths, the silkworms spin silken cocoons around their bodies. When unwound, the thread from one cocoon may be more than a half mile (1 km.) long!
Long ago, the Chinese learned how to weave the fine silk into cloth. They knew It can be woven into a very soft and smooth fabric. Silk fabric played an important role in their culture and economy for thousands of years.
The ancient Chinese bred special moths to produce the quality silk they wanted. Here are the steps in the process for making silk:
- A moth lays several eggs and then dies
- Baby worms hatch from the eggs, they are fed mulberry leaves for one month until they are fat
- The worms spin cocoons
- The cocoons are steamed to kill the growing moth inside
- The cocoons are rinsed in hot water to loosen the threads
- Women would unwind the cocoons and then combine six or so fibers into silk threads
- The threads are woven into cloth
- The cloth is then pounded to make it softer